Ponder 5 Casinos
By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 10, 2004 In a special meeting of county legislators, top county officials and business leaders on Wednesday in the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello, Sullivan County Legislator and Sullivan County Republican Party Chairman Greg Goldstein stated his clear and aggressive objection to five casinos in Sullivan County.
Goldstein led the meeting, saying he had a call into the governors office to state his disagreement, as it is Governor George Pataki who is pushing to add two casinos to the already approved three in the Catskills.
Goldstein supports the recent state land claim settlements, but we dont want to be known as the gambling center of New York State, he said.
He remarked that his foremost concern is regarding the impact on schools. He said he is afraid five casinos would sink the boat.
He further stated that the county should have been more involved in the settlement process. While none of the casinos would be situated within his legislative district, he said he was opposed to a countywide referendum.
Dr. Martin Handler, head of Sullivan County BOCES, said seven of the eight public school districts in the county were already at capacity. Sullivan West is the lone exception, in his estimation, meaning more casinos could severely burden area schools.
Former Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development Chairman Jerry Skoda estimated that five casinos would double the population of year-round residents. However, he said you have to be a fool to guess how much the casinos would impact area infrastructure. He argued that the state should make the county whole on infrastructure costs due to casinos, whether there is one or five of them.
Sullivan County Planning and Community Development Commissioner Bill Pammer had several concerns. Besides the two new proposals, he said his department was spending considerable time dealing with the future of Route 42, which could service two casinos and is already a nexus of intense traffic congestion during the summer period.
Pammer said he and his staff have made three trips to Binghamton for meetings with the New York State Department of Transportation to determine when improvements would be made.
The commissioner also believed five casinos would max out infrastructure capacity in the countys towns and place a heavy tax burden on local citizens. He said the towns would not be able to handle the demands put on their emergency services.
County Manager Dan Briggs suggested the county ask the state to fund a study on infrastructure costs.
Marc Baez, president of the Partnership, said that five casinos would have an enormous impact. However, he alluded to the day when the county absorbed hundreds of hotels with less adequate roads in a positive manner. He also agreed with asking the state to make the county whole on related casino infrastructure expenses.
One of the most vigorous opponents of the new agreement was Jonathan Drapkin, speaking as chairman of the Partnership. He did not believe most county residents wanted more than two casinos.
Newly hired President of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce Jon Westergreen simply stated that the chamber was pro-casino, pro-business and pro-jobs.
Sullivan County Legislator Jonathan Rouis, representing the Town of Mamakating, also expressed support for casinos. He said it would increase the number of tourists to the area.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur questioned whether more than two casinos would be economically viable. He said traffic congestion would rise dramatically.
Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency CEO Allan Scott said he believed five casinos in the county are unrealistic. He also opposed a referendum. He suggested that such a measure would have a negative impact.
Politicians Weigh In
By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 10, 2004 And then there were five.
New York State Governor George Pataki continued to settle Native American land claims in the state at a rapid pace this week by agreeing to terms with the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans.
The moves follow two recent agreements with the Seneca Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and the Cayuga Nation of New York to settle their land claims and an offer to the St. Regis Mohawks to settle their land claims. Two of the three Mohawk factions have agreed to those terms.
The settlements will require approval by the New York State Legislature and United States Congress before the terms can be implemented.
The new agreements will offer thousands of acres to the tribes and allow them to build casinos in the Catskills.
The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans has plans for a 150,000-square-foot casino, with 190 table games and 3,000 slot machines. The gaming facility would be located on 333 acres site off Route 17s Exit 107 in Bridgeville and would be held in trust by the federal government.
The Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin plans to build a casino on an 88-acre parcel of land in the Town of Mamakating, said Kathy Hughes, Vice Chair of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin. She said the state agreed to give the tribe an additional 1,000 acres of land further upstate.
Oneida and Madison counties will be compensated with $5 million per year in economic development funds. The counties are held harmless for any resulting losses in real property taxes.
Both tribes have agreed to collect and remit local and state taxes on retail goods and services sold at their sites.
Pataki spokesman Todd Alhart said the tribes would return 18-25 percent of slot machine revenue to the state.
They are also required to sign an agreement with the county in which they hold a casino. That will give Sullivan County considerable leverage in its dealings with the tribes.
However, the county has already signed an agreement with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans and the St. Regis Mohawks, and is nearing completion for agreements with the Cayuga Nation of New York.
The two signed agreements allow for the county to collect $15 million in impact fees.
Five Instead of Three
All this maneuvering, however, means theres now a potential for five casinos in Sullivan County instead of the already approved three a plan the governor apparently approves.
United States Congressman and Democrat Maurice Hinchey, however, said he is opposed to five casinos being placed in Sullivan County.
He objected to the governors attempts to push through his settlements with the two Cayuga tribes last month. Hinchey said he has yet to see those agreements.
Furthermore, he said the county has failed to achieve adequate compensation for the impacts that even one casino would have on schools and infrastructure throughout the county. He said their previous agreements failed to stipulate any clauses which would allow for collection of any revenues from the gaming facilities, as opposed to the state, which will receive up to 25 percent of all slot machine receipts.
Hinchey added that while he supports the governor settling the land claim issues with the various Native American tribes, he thought the governor was rushing the latest agreements in order to pay for a recent court order, which called upon the state to fund New York City schools with approximately $5 billion.
New York State Senator John Bonacic, a Republican, said the governor deserves credit for the five compacts reached over the last few weeks. However, he did not support placing all five casinos in Sullivan County.
Bonacic said the county should first proceed with the first three casinos and examine the ramifications.
The senator has yet to see the agreements.
Regarding impacts, he said the county has the power to sign the appropriate agreements with the casinos, and he feels that casinos would improve local business.
Alhart said the governor has no current plans to introduce the settlement legislation. The legislature may return this month to work on budget reform, said Bonacic.
The senator added that gaming advocates have been lobbying hard in Albany for the legislature to approve the agreements.
Alhart said the governor is receptive to local concerns, but casinos bring tremendous benefits to the county, including thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.
Bob Chicks, President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians, said, "This is a historic moment for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. It has been more than 200 years since the Stockbridge-Munsee were removed from our ancestral homeland. Today, with this settlement, Governor Pataki is taking a big step toward redressing that wrong."
Hughes, speaking for the Oneidas of Wisconsin, said the agreement was great. She said her tribe had been working on such a deal for as long as she could remember, adding that the new casinos would boost the economy of her tribe in Wisconsin, as well as the State of New York.